REVIEW: Suspiria (1977)

 During the 2000s, Michael Bay had turned his attention to remaking horror franchises.  Platinum Dunes, the production company started by Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form kicked off it's existence with a flurry of horror remakes.  It all started with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and their first non-remake wouldn't happen until 2009 when they made The Unborn.  The common thread in their remakes, from The Amityville Horror (2005) to A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was that they were extremely loud and as far from subtle as any film could ever get.

Each of these movies irritated me.  I tell myself that I like horror that is more sophisticated, films that are directed and edited with a steady hand.  Loud noises are the play things of people who are sloppy.  Visual symbolism needed to be something you searched for, and not something that drop kicked you in the teeth. Yes, I am above all of this nonsense.

But, the truth is, that I'm not.  Sometimes a horror just needs to be entertaining and can be enjoyable without meaning much.  As well, a film can succeed by being intense and in your face in a sensory overload that even Michael Bay could only fantasize of producing.

Suspira is one of my favourite horror films of all time, and it punches you in the face.  There is a lot of symbolism in colours, but they aren't applied cautiously.  Red and blue are of incredible significance, and they fly at you like an angry rodent being blasted out of a shit cannon (I meant to type 'shirt cannon,' but I found this mistake whimsical so I left it in).  The score is of equal importance, but it as well is a tool to bludgeon the viewer with.

So, despite my hatred of heavy handed techniques, how is it that I hold Suspiria so highly?  This film is visually like a dream that turns into a nightmare.  The aesthetics are not about being realistic, but creating a fantasy world of evil.  Director Dario Argento seems to make the movie become an opera, a display of stage presence and powerful stimuli.

Everything he does with this film is calculated, and while the visual symbolism is front and centre, it is well thought out, properly handled, and also with its subtleties.  The score, while shrill and overly amplified, is the mood of the characters that are caught within a spider's web without even knowing they were in danger.

The movie is set in an elite dance academy in German, and follows Suzy (Jessica Harper).  Newly arrived from America, Suzy starts to learn that there are deep and evil secrets within the school's leadership.  Supernatural and gruesome events are happening, and Suzy comes to learn the secret that it is a coven of witches that are running the school.

This is where the importance of colours really comes into play.  The abundance of red is a warning, a sign of danger, horror, and death.  Blue, however, is used to be a lot calmer, and (at least from my estimation) represents the coven.  There is an interesting scene where Suzy is swimming in the academy's indoor pool with a friend.  The tile on the interior of the pool is blue, except for large square outlined with white tiles that an overhead shot highlights.  The girls are treading water inside the box, an illustration of the trap they are caught in.  While the red could catch their attention and alert them, it is this blue that is the true terror of the hidden coven.

The score is as equally intriguing as the use of colour.  It has it's absurdly obvious elements, but is also much more than that.  Progressive rock group Goblin helped with the score and also created one of the creepiest horror themes that I have ever heard.

Argento is incredibly bold with this movie.  The theatrics of it stand out from much of what horror was or would become.  Grounded in the real world, it still communicates itself to be supernatural and a surreal story.  The swelling of the music, the set design, and the flow of the film take this film beyond contemporary cinema.  If ever there was a horror movie that felt like an opera, Suspiria is it.

And, like the opera, it won't be to everyone's taste.  For me, it's a love affair.  I can't get enough of the fantastical contrasted with the subtle secrets.  This is a setting where instantly people should get suspicious, but they wouldn't know what they needed to fear.  Well, one of them begins to understand what all of the warning signs point to, and their journey to get there hooks me every single time I watch it.

Rating - 4 out of 4 stars